Of the players involved in the recent resurgence of fingerstyle guitar,
Harris Newman has
established himself as a primary envoy on the modern day steel-stringer
shortlist. As with the case of his brothers-in-arms Jack Rose, Glenn
Jones and Steffen
Basho-Junghans, each of whom borrow from the past traditions
of mavericks Fahey, Basho et al but have re-invented the sound
and style with fresh perspectives, Newman distinguishes his music
even further with a very idiosyncratic sound. A fixture in the Montreal
scene for years, Newman cut his teeth early on by playing bass in Constellation
recording artists Sackville. Currently he is ½ of the duo Triple
Burner with cohort Bruce Cawdron (Godspeed You! Black Emperor),
and can be found on records by Montreal bands Hrsta and Esmerine.
Newman also happens to be the mastering agent du jour for the
Montreal scene, bringing sparkle to recordings as diverse as Wolf
Parade, A Silver Mt Zion, Fly Pan Am and Carla Bozulich.
Its speculation to claim that the post-modern rock sound which has come
to define the Montreal scene guides Newman's approach to the
acoustic guitar, but it is a resolute certainty that Newman is
charting terrain that sounds like few others. Following up the critically
acclaimed Accidents With Nature And Each Other (Strange
Attractors, 2005), Newman unveils his third album Decorated,
yet another beautiful, forward-thinking take on the steel-string sound.
In contrast to the name of the album, Harris Newman opts for
a somewhat stripped-down, almost minimalist approach to Decorated.
Subtle and introspective, the first half of the album showcases Newman's
brand of solo acoustic guitar. Mood and color take precedence, as Newman's
fingerpicking weaves tonal spirals across each composition. Melodies
bob and weave from alternate pacing, balanced between space and sound
like strands of tinsel clinging to a tree. Marking a stylistic turning
point in the album, "Blues for Vilhelm" is a humming incantation for
lapsteel guitar, a minimalist sound pool rippling ever outwards. Following
with the languid improvisation "Golden Valleys as Seen From the East",
Newman stretches out and explores intoxicating themes, coaxing out melodies
which quickly blossom and decay in slowly unfurling spools. Newman
picks up the electric guitar with "Thee Opera House Stomp", and backed
by the forward momentum of drummer Eric Craven, the song embarks
from a country-blues riff headlong into serpentine trajectory reminiscent
of the arty twang of Gastr del Sol.
Extracting elements of folk and blues and exposing it bare, Harris
Newman dresses up his music in cinematic, "post-rock" attire.
Decorated is accessible solo guitar music for the experimentally
minded, a meditative electro-acoustic melding of Leo Kottke and
Jim O'Rourke, illustrating why Newman's own take on the
tradition sets him apart from the pack.
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